Triumph of the Will (Triumph des Willens) is a filmed record of the 1934 Nazi Party Convention, in Nuremberg. No, it is more than just a record: it is an exultation of Adolf Hitler, who from the moment his plane descends from Valhalla-like clouds is visually characterized as a God on Earth. The “Jewish question” is disposed of with a few fleeting closeups; filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl prefers to concentrate on cheering crowds, precision marching, military bands, and Hitler’s climactic speech, all orchestrated, choreographed and illuminated on a scale that makes Griffith and DeMille look like poverty-row directors. It has been alleged that the climactic rally, “spontaneous” Sieg-Heils and all, was pre-planned according to Riefenstahl’s specifications, the better to take full advantage of its cinematic potential. Allegedly, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels resented the presence and intrusion of a woman director, but finally had to admit that her images, achieved through the use of 30 cameras and 120 assistants, were worth a thousand speeches. Possibly the most powerful propaganda film ever made, Triumph of the Will is also, in retrospect, one of the most horrifying.
Tigrero: A Film That Was Never Made (1994) Mika Kaurismäki, Samuel Fuller, Jim Jarmusch, Documentary, Drama
In 1993, Sam Fuller takes Jim Jarmusch on a trip into Brazil’s Mato Grosso, up the River Araguaia to the village of Santa Isabel Do Morro, where 40 years before, Zanuck had sent Fuller to scout a location and write a script for a movie based on a tigrero, a jaguar hunter. Sam hopes to find people who remember him, and he takes film he shot in 1954. He’s Rip Van Winkle, and, indeed, a great deal changed in the village. There are televisions, watches, and brick houses. But, the same Karajá culture awaits as well. He gathers the villagers to show his old film footage, and people recognize friends and relatives, thanking Fuller for momentarily bringing them back to life.
The Road to Guantanamo (2006) Mat Whitecross, Michael Winterbottom, Riz Ahmed, Farhad Harun, Waqar Siddiqui, Documentary, Drama, War
In 2001, four Pakistani Britons, Ruhal Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul and another friend, Monir, travel to Pakistan for a wedding and in a urge of idealism, decide to see the situation of war torn Afganistan which is being bombed by the American forces in retaliation for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Once there, with the loss of Monir in the wartime chaos, they are captured by Northern Alliance fighters. They are then handed them over the American forces who transport them to the prison camps at the Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba. What follows is three years of relentless imprisonment, interrogations and torture to make them submit to blatantly wrong confessions to being terrorists. In the midst of this abuse, the three struggle to keep their spirits up in that face of this grave injustice.
The James Dean Story (1957) Robert Altman, George W. George, Martin Gabel, James Dean, Lew Bracker, Documentary, Biography
This documentary, which was undertaken soon after James Dean’s death, looks at Dean’s life through the use of still photographs with narration, and interviews with many of the people involved in his short life. Interviewees include the aunt and uncle who raised him after his mother’s death (when James was 9), his fraternal grandparents, a cabdriver friend in New York City, and the owner of his favorite restaurant in Los Angeles. James’s father, who was alive when the film was made, does not get a single mention.
L’épine dans le coeur / The Thorn in the Heart (2009) Michel Gondry, Suzette Gondry, Jean-Yves Gondry, Documentary
Naomi Kawase collaborates with Shinya Arimoto, a Taiyo award-winning photographer she knows from university, to create a photo album of Machiko Ono (who Kawase scouted for her previous feature film Moe no Suzaku) and Mika Mifune (daughter of famous actor Toshiro Mifune) with the idea to contrast these two aspiring actresses, Ono coming from the rural Nara and Mifune from Tokyo. Kawase documents the photo shooting and interviews Arimoto, Ono and Mifune as the work progresses, while the tension between her and Arimoto increases over disagreement on the direction of the project.
As war-ravaged South Sudan claims independence from North Sudan and its brutal President, Omar al-Bashir, a tiny, homemade prop plane wings in from France. It is piloted by eagle-eyed documentarian Hubert Sauper, who is mining for stories in a land trapped in the past but careening toward an apocalyptic future.